Church Marketing: Belgian Style

February 25, 2008 by

We had a lot of fun interviewing Drew from England a few weeks ago and hearing what he had to say about church marketing in the UK. So much fun, as a matter of fact, that we wanted to hear from folks in other places.

So this week we’ll let you in on our conversation with Philip Tregunna, a design and advertising specialist from Belgium who has a soft spot for churches.

Philip, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Philip: I’m 28, I graduated in graphic design and advertising a couple of years ago and since then I’ve been working as a conceptual creative for local and international brands in a number of advertising agencies. In my free time I’ve been helping various Christian churches and organisations with their designs and communications as a volunteer.

Pretty much all volunteer work? There’s an argument that you shouldn’t volunteer for churches as it teaches them to continue undervaluing marketing by not devoting budget space. What has your experience with this been?

Philip: Yes, that’s certainly a risk, but for me the argument only seems valid when paid work for churches or organisations is actually an option. Sadly that isn’t really an option for most churches here, since they simply don’t have the money. In the end I’d rather risk a church undervaluing marketing than seeing them fall flat on their face when it comes to their communications. Regardless whether it’s a paid project or not, it’s always important to guide your client trough the process. Making them pay for something isn’t the only way to educate a church.

Wow, great point. Let’s talk specifically about Belgium. I’ve been to the airport, but that’s about it. Tell us a little about Belgium that makes it different from the rest of Europe.

Philip: Belgium is a strange little country. You can drive trough it in three hours (and even have time to stop for a coffee along the way) and it has approximately 10 million inhabitants. Half of the country speaks French and half of the country speaks Dutch. There’s also a little German speaking part, which everyone tends to leave out to keep things simple. Since it’s at the centre of Europe, it’s a very multicultural and international place. The main religion is Catholic, but the country is actually very secular. According to a recent study about 9% of the Belgian go to church (all religions combined). The evangelical and protestant Christians are a small minority. To give you an idea: a big evangelical church in Belgium would have about 200-300 adults attending the services.

Tiny country, tiny churches. What do you see the relationship between the American and European church? Do American church principles work into European churches, or vice versa?

Philip: We mainly get stuck with the mega church theories over here, which tend to be quite irrelevant to the culture and situation in Belgium. The way people experience and understand religion is always linked to their culture. People try and import certain church models or approaches, because they work in the U.S. and people are drawn by its success, but church isn’t something you can franchise.

What challenges have you seen in Belgian church marketing that are unique to the nation, or at least to Europe?

Philip: Trying to communicate to a very secularised society, which has little knowledge, loads of misconceptions and very little interest in anything associated with Christianity is quite a challenge. Especially when you don’t have a budget. I think it would be hard for most Americans to understand exactly what I’m talking about until you’ve spent some time over here.

It’s also rather annoying that thanks to the media, people here mainly associate evangelical Christianity with some of the more extreme things that happen in the U.S. It doesn’t help when you mainly get associated with Jesus Camp and George Bush.

What advice would you give, as a communications professional, to church marketers in Belgium? How about America?

Philip: To readers in Belgium: send me an e-mail, and we’ll grab a coffee or a beer sometime. I’ll probably already know them though …

To readers in the USA: marketing techniques can be very useful for churches, but remember that the end goal needs to be quite different. Marketing tends to be about numbers. Church is about relationship with God and each other. It can be easy to lose focus.

Thanks so much Philip. There’s one we’ve really been dying to know: Are Belgian waffles as good as legend says they are?

Philip: Don’t believe the hype. They are quite good, but nothing can beat Belgian beer.

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Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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